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Easy Italian

My brother told me a few weeks ago that as a child, I would only eat toast or cheese or something with a combination of  the two. I’m afraid to admit those still rank high on my favorite items list, but you know what, at least I can say I’m consistent. Since I eat like a kid, maybe your kid will like these too. They’re really simple to make!

  • Mazola Pure® Cooking Spray
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 envelopes Fleischmann’s® RapidRise Yeast
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup very warm water (120 degrees F to 130 degrees F)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil


  • 1/2 cup pizza sauce
  • 2 ounces pepperoni slices
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

Spray a 9-1/2-inch deep dish pie dish. Mix the ingredients that go in the dough and spread over the pie dish. Cover the batter with pizza sauce, layer with pepperoni, and then sprinkle the top with cheese. Place it in the unheated oven and turn it on to 350 degrees Bake the dish for thirty minutes and serve.

Pasta dishes can get boring, so spice up some regular rotini with some fun:

Boil whole wheat pasta according to the directions on the box. Smother in the sauce of your choice and mix in mozzarella cheese and crushed croutons or garlic rounds. Continue to cook until the cheese is melted and serve! This dish goes great with a Caesar salad on the side.


Arroz Con Pollo

As a person new to Miami, I am also pretty new to Cuban food. I’d never had it and I’d definitely never made any of it before I came here. Two popular things that I really like are Cuban sandwiches and Arroz Con Pollo.

Arroz Con Pollo is just as it is translated- Chicken with rice. Marinate a whole, cleaned chicken that you’ve cut into eight pieces in a rub of 1 tsp oregano, 1 tsp cumin, , 1/2 tsp ground white pepper, and 1 tbsp red wine vinegar. In a casserole dish, brown the chicken all at once in two tablespoons olive oil for two minutes on each side. Set the chicken aside and drain all but two tablespoons of fat. Add one small chopped onion, one diced red bell pepper, three minced cloves of garlic, and heat it all until soft. Then add a diced tomato into this mixture. Return the chicken to this and cook for two more minutes.

Add three cups of water, a cup of beer, 1 tablespoon of tomato paste, 2 tsp of annatto oil, and bring it all to a boil. Simmer it for thirty minutes. While the chicken is cooking, place 1/2 tsp of annatto seeds in small saucepan with 1/4 cup of the chicken cooking liquid. Simmer for about 5 minutes. Strain mixture back into the chicken.

Wash one pound of Valencia rice, and add it to the chicken mixture once you bring it to a boil. Add rice and reduce the heat and simmer for 20- 25 minutes. Right before you serve it, mix in some sliced red pimentos and a can of green peas.

See, you can make Cuban food for your family too!

-Whitney J. Manson

Herbs at Your Service

Growing herbs yourself can save you a lot of money in the long run. Tending to herbs is fairly simple, and buying a plant is about as costly as buying a bushel of the fresh herb in the store anyway. Herbs have a lot of benefits and while you might need to use a larger amount of fresh herbs than dried ones, the taste is better overall. You can begin growing a plant from a portion you buy at the store or purchase a plant altogether. Once you start growing an herb plant, cut a small portion to use in your cooking (but be careful to not over cut it).

One of the easiest plants to deal with is basil, and it does not require tons of water or sunlight. Basil is used in lots of Italian food and Thai food and hosts many benefits. Some of its medical benefits are that it helps respiratory problems, colds, arthritis, and migraines. Once you have a basil plant growing, things like fresh pesto, Insalata Caprese, and bruschetta are right at your tips!

Here’s a good Insalata Caprese recipe. Wash tomatoes and basil and then slice tomatoes and mozzarella. Layer the tomato, mozzarella, and then basil and drizzle with a bit of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Cilantro also has tons of benefits and is used in Mexican, Asian, and Caribbean food. You can add it to fresh salsa, soups, salads, etc. Cilantro helps cleanse the body of toxins, keeps bugs away, and flourishes in kitchen windows. It can also be used for a twist on fresh pesto.

Rosemary is a strong herb that grows in bushes. It is a great addition to meat, fish, or soup. Rosemary is full of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory benefits. It can also help reduce water retention, minimize skin aging, and improve liver function. A little goes a long way, and throwing them in roasted potatoes make for a great side or breakfast dish.

In order to receive 100% of the vitamins and health benefits, I recommend buying a plant at your nearest Home Depot.

Tailor Your Thai Food with A Taste of Thai

I love going out for Thai food, and my favorite place to eat Thai food is Phuket Thai in Hermosa Beach. Their food is laden with spices of all kinds, and I love that it’s spicy and fresh with vegetables and basil. Their Pad Thai is out of this world, and you can even have it delivered. The pairing of rice noodles, chicken, shrimp, and vegetables mixed in with the Pad Thai sauce is not as spicy as some of their other dishes. I like that there is a perfect ratio of rice noodles and non-noodle parts to the meal. If you haven’t tried Pad Thai, I can assure you it is a dish that everyone will like. If you are trying Thai food for the first time, it is definitely what you should go for. My other favorite dish there is the vegetarian red curry, which is a red curry with lots of veggies and tofu. I usually order brown rice to top it off. Red curry is truly for those brave souls who are into spicy food. If you are less into spicy than me, go for a yellow curry.

If you are not near a Phuket Thai, the next best thing is to make it yourself! A Taste of Thai has plenty of products out in grocery stores, especially Whole Foods. Not only do their products have everything you need in them, they even list the recipes ON the packaging for your favorite Thai dishes!

For Pad Thai you will need to buy A Taste of Thai rice noodles and A Taste of Thai Pad Thai Sauce and follow the remaining instructions on the box. Usually, you need bean sprouts, some vegetables, meat or tofu, an egg, and peanuts. For the peanut allergic people out there like me, making it yourself is maybe the best option there is since you know there is no peanut anywhere near your food.

Ingredients for Red Curry include A Taste of Thai Red Curry paste, A Taste of Thai Lite Coconut Milk, and A Taste of Thai Fish Sauce. Recipes for a curry will be on the container, and vegetables usually include broccoli and bell pepper.

-Whitney Manson

Eggplant Cannelloni

I know a lot of people like to partake in meatless May (I, however, am not included in this category). The things you need to be concerned about though are making sure you get in enough protein and do not eat totally boring food!

Eggplant is a great option for a healthy but fortified treat and with it you won’t even miss the meat! It is high in dietary fiber, antioxidants, and potassium. It tastes delicious- as long as it isn’t raw! Eggplant cannelloni is high in fiber and protein and low in carbs. Enjoy this healthy meal with its easy-to-follow instructions.


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 large shallots, sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 2 jars (12 oz each) of Roland roasted red peppers, drained
  • 1/2 cup fresh squeezed orange juice (juice of 1 orange)


  • 2 medium eggplants, cut lengthwise into 1/2-inch slices
  • olive oil cooking spray


  • 4 oz goat cheese
  • 4 kalamata olives, pitted and minced
  • 1 teaspoon capers, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley


  1. For sauce

    Heat up the oil and add shallots and garlic until they appear cooked and soft. Reduce heat and cook until they reach a gold color (about five minutes.) Once they are cooked, add roasted red peppers and orange juice. Bring this to a boil, and then simmer until peppers are soft. Let this mixture cool. Once cool, puree it in a blender or food processor. Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Cook shallots and garlic until soft, about 1 minute. Reduce heat. Pour into a 9″ x 13″ baking dish.
  2. For eggplant

    Brush eggplants with olive oil or cooking spray. Broil on a baking sheet until each side is golden.
  3. For filling

    Mix cheese, capers, 1 tbsp of parsley, and olives in a bowl. Fill each eggplant slice and roll it up. Lay on dish. Bake at 400 for  10 to 15 minutes and top with the rest of the parsley before serving.
    -Whitney Manson

Goat Cheese, Please

I am obsessed with goat cheese lately for a variety of reasons. Goat cheese is lesser in fat, calories, and cholesterol than cheese from cows, and it is also much friendlier for the lactose intolerant. Goat cheese comes in many varieties, just like regular cheese (i.e. in brie, soft, herb encrusted, hard, or with pepper). Additionally, I often find that goat cheese goes a longer way with its distinct taste; so, I can get away with using less and getting more flavor. I use goat cheese as a great addition to pizzas, omelets, salads, grilled vegetables, pasta dishes, and sandwiches. It can turn a boring dish into one bursting with flavor without adding tons of fat. It is easy to spice up boring grilled vegetables with a smattering of goat cheese to make it a meal. My favorite brand of goat cheese is Ile De France, and I will guide you through a recipe that includes it- goat cheese and mushroom quesadillas! The ingredients are simply Ile De France goat cheese, Mission Carb Balance Whole Wheat Tortillas, bell pepper, onion, and minced garlic. They don’t take much time to prepare and are a healthier quesadilla option. They have less fat AND host some important vitamins, like calcium and potassium. I guarantee your family will gobble them up in no time.

Sauté 1 teaspoon of minced garlic, ¼ cup of onion, 8 oz of mixed mushrooms, and ½ cup of bell pepper in a large frying pan with olive oil. Once the onions are clear and the mushrooms look cooked, mix in 7 ounces of goat cheese. Pour the mixture over 4 tortillas, then top each with another tortilla. Grill the tortillas like you would a normal quesadilla, making sure each side gets browned. Slice into wedges and serve with a Mrs. Renfro’s Mango Habanero Salsa and Wholly Guacamole guacamole.

-Whitney J. Manson

Gourmet Pizza in a Cinch

Pizza is my weak spot. I seriously cannot avoid trying pizza in every city I go to in search of the “best” pizza in the city. That said, I think I am becoming a real snob when it comes to pizza. I tend to get upset when people want to order in Domino’s (blasphemous, the worst excuse of a pizza ever). I find myself analyzing the crust (Too thick? Too thin? Too burnt?) and the ratio of cheese and toppings to sauce. My “ideal” pizza does not have heavy sauce, is not dripping with grease or overly cheesy, and completely loaded with delicious toppings. My ideal crust should be somewhat thin yet doughy with a pudgy crust and bubbling cheese. My favorite toppings are mostly anything minus meats… well unless it is in the form of meatballs, yum. So here is my guide to the places I know, the pizzas I eat, and the pizzas I make!

The best pizza in Miami: It is a toss up. Sir Pizza on Key Biscayne or New York Roma Pizza

Hermosa Beach/ Los Angeles: Paisano’s meatball and roasted garlic, Fresh Brothers thick crust pizza (Mama’s Special)

Dallas: Chicago Rick’s Pizza

My favorite kind of pizza is homemade because it fits my pizza ideal. It is simple to make and you can use wheat or white flour with this recipe:

Mix 1 teaspoon of salt, 1 teaspoon of yeast, and teaspoons of honey into one cup of warm water. Leave for 10 minutes. Add 3 ½ cups of flour and 2 teaspoons of olive oil and gradually mix it. Knead dough once it gives heavy and knead it into a ball. Put the dough in a bowl and cover with saran wrap, let dough rise for an hour. Push it down again and let it rise another hour.  Put onto floured surface and shape dough into a pie. Top pizza with Ragu pizza sauce, Kraft mozzarella cheese, and additional toppings of choice. You can create your own perfect ratios! Mine are a small amount of Ragu sauce, a whole package of Kraft cheese, Dole pineapple chunks, and jalapenos! My favorite toppings are Dole pineapple chunks and jalapenos. The pizza cooks in merely 20 minutes at 400 degrees.

The dough refrigerates and freezes perfectly so you can eat it at any time!

-Whitney Manson

Sweet Peach Tea

Summer is approaching, and nothing is more refreshing on a hot day than a glass of iced tea. The polyphenols in tea may lower your risk for cancer, so use this as an excuse to down a tasty peach treat.


  • 1 oz tea leaves (Earl Grey or Darjeeling, about 1/3 cup loose tea or 7 bags)
  • 1 sliced lemon
  • 1 piece ginger (about 2 inches), peeled and smashed
  • 1 quart water
  • 8 cups ice cubes
  • 2 peaches
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 8 sprigs mint
  • 1 sliced peach

Boil one quart of water, then add tea, lemon, and ginger to it and steep for 7.5 minutes. Then peel, dice, and place the sugar and peaches into a blender until smooth. Add this to the tea mixture and serve it over ice. Garnish with mint springs and slices of peaches.

-Whitney Manson

The school I went to for 14 years now has its own TOMS. Yeah, this is not made up and yes, it is unfair that cool things happen whenever I leave (ahem, putting in a 21 Choices AND Lemonade on the USC Campus). Saddle oxfords < HockaTOMS. If you don’t know what TOMS are, they’re sustainable shoes that are typically canvas or made from vegan materials. When you buy them, they donate a pair to a child who needs shoes (this is their One for One movement). Their mission is a great cause, and the shoes are adorable. Buy them.

Throw Your Own Kentucky Derby Party

Do you wish you were in Kentucky watching the horse race? Well you can feel like you’re there with the use of an HD television (or 3D if you’re lucky) and an invitation to the finest party this side of the Mississippi.

Plan your own elegant affair to celebrate the day! I, for one, love theme parties, so this is the perfect excuse to have one. Costume is definitely required for this party! It is a great excuse to wear the dress that’s hiding in the back of your closet and to force the boys to wear something other than jeans. Women should wear sundresses or tea dresses with big hats, just like everyone does at the Derby. Men should dress in khaki slacks and dress shirts. The preppier, the better!

Set your table with white linen, your finest silverware, china, etc. Be sure to decorate the house with roses too- the Derby is often called “the run of the roses”, so this is the only appropriate flower for the occasion. Definitely create your own betting pool to make everyone more invested in the party.

Now on to my favorite part, what to serve at the party. Mint juleps are a MUST. They are the drink of the Derby (about 80,000 are sold at the Derby), and they are not hard at all to make.

Place 4-5 mint sprigs into a Collins glass or old-fashioned glass with ½ ounce of simple syrup or two sugar cubes. Muddle them together and add 2.5 oz of bourbon. Fill with crushed ice until the glass becomes frosty, and be sure to stir well.

For the main course, serve ribs, black-eyed pea salad, and Southern sides like grits or dill cucumber dip. Really, you can’t go wrong with serving anything Southern! Let me know how your party turns out today. Make chocolate bourban balls for dessert with the recipe below:

  • 1 cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 3 tablespoons corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup bourbon
  • 2 1/2 cups crushed vanilla wafer cookies
  • 1 cup finely chopped pecans
  • 1/2 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar

Directions: Place chocolate chips in microwave safe bowl. Microwave on half power for one minute. Stir, and continue microwaving on half power, checking every 30 seconds, until completely melted (approximately 2-3 minutes). Stir in corn syrup and bourbon. In large bowl mix together crushed vanilla wafer crumbs, confectioners’ sugar and chopped nuts. Blend in chocolate mixture until all dry ingredients have been well moistened. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Form mixture into one-inch balls and roll in granulated sugar to coat. Store in covered container at room temperature.

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